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8 female entrepreneurs to compete in regional SBA InnovateHER Challenge

LocalShops1 Creator Ester Venouziou is partnering with the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce to offer eight Tampa Bay area female entrepreneurs the chance to compete for up to $70,000 in prizes during the Small Business Association InnovateHER Challenge. 

While all of the applications in the local round came from women entrepreneurs, the competition is open to both male and female business owners whose products and services focus on women and their families.

Finalists in the Pinellas County regional round of the InnovateHER Challenge include:“One of the goals of LocalShops1 is to put local businesses in the spotlight,” Venouziou says, and the SBA InnovateHER Challenge “gives us an excellent opportunity to do so on a national level. Tampa Bay has so many creative and talented entrepreneurs, so let's show them off to the rest of the world.”

The LocalShops1 round of the national SBA InnovateHER Challenge will take place from 5-8 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Catherine Hickman Theatre, 5501 27th Ave S in Gulfport.

Following an opening reception hosted by Pinellas County businesses Three Birds Tavern, Out of the Weeds and Red Hot Tiki Market, finalists will participate in a live pitch competition moderated by Gulfport Chamber president Barry Rubin.

Isabel Laessig, Founder of Family Foodie, is keynote speaker for the event.

Laessig “turned a hobby -- cooking and blogging -- into not only a successful business, but a national movement encouraging families to eat together,” Venouziou says. 

The judges panel for the pitch competition includes Gallerie 909 Owner Carla Bristol; Diana M. Hechavarria, an entrepreneurship professor at the University South Florida; Marie Tomassi, a managing partner at Trenam Law; Rita Lowman, COO of C1 Bank; and Robin King, co-Owner of  Three Birds Tavern and Out of the Weeds.

Winners of regional rounds will be submitted to the SBA National headquarters for consideration in the live pitch final round on March 16 and 17, 2016, in Washington. DC, where selected finalists will compete for prizes from Microsoft that total $70,000.

Venouziou expects to see more than 100 local business owners, civic leaders and community members attend the regional round of the challenge. To register for the free event, click here

“We hope the contestants and all the entrepreneurs -- and entrepreneurs-to-be -- in the audience walk away inspired and with a better understanding of what they need to run a successful business,” Venouziou says. “And of course, we hope that our local winner will make it to the national round and win one of the cash prizes!”

Venouziou commends the city of Gulfport and the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as event sponsors and community partners, for supporting the event. St. Pete Chamber of Commerce, St Pete Greenhouse and SCORE will be on hand during the Dec. 2 competition to provide free resources available to local businesses.

Meanwhile in Tampa, The Centre for Women is working with the SBA as a partner agency to prepare Tampa entrepreneurs for the competition. Winners of the local round will receive $5,000 in cash or prizes furnished by sponsors and supporters of The Centre.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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